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Published May 22, 2023
An award-winning teacher, an internationally renowned scholar and a longtime leader who has served in many administrative roles at the University of Wyoming has been honored with the university’s top faculty award.
Department of English Professor Susan Aronstein, also an associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, is the recipient of the 2023 George Duke Humphrey Distinguished Faculty Award. Named for UW’s 13th president, who served from 1945-1964, the award honors teaching effectiveness, distinction in scholarly work and distinguished service to the university and state.
“She is a generous colleague, a forward-looking problem solver and a true collaborator,” UW Honors College Dean Peter Parolin says of Aronstein, who has been a member of UW’s faculty since 1987. “She is precisely the sort of faculty member the George Duke Humphrey Award is designed to recognize, someone who has dedicated her whole professional life to UW students, colleagues and the institution itself.”
As an instructor at UW, Aronstein has taught at all levels of the curriculum for both the Department of English and the Honors College, which she directed from 2014-17. Her courses have included the honors freshman colloquium; literary theory; Chaucer; medieval romance; Arthurian legend; children’s film; fantasy literature; transmedia storytelling; Steven Spielberg; and the Disney Discourse.
“She makes each class fresh, rethinking what she has done before, devising new assignments so that students will take advantage of new technologies, grapple with new preoccupations in society, and showcase their many strengths,” Parolin says. “In every interaction with students, she truly sees the students before her, gets to know their strengths and their needs, and imparts excellent mentoring to help them succeed. She works with students on big ideas about literature as well as the critical structures of composition; she challenges students to make their scholarship better and encourages them to think ambitiously about their futures, whether that would be a spot in a top graduate program or a position in an impactful company.”
One of her former students is Travis Feezell, the provost of Belmont Abbey College in Belmont, N.C., and the former president of Hastings College in Nebraska.
“I have known Susan for over three decades and can think of no other faculty member at the University of Wyoming who has influenced my professional life (more),” says Feezell, a 1990 UW graduate who credits Aronstein for his decision to pursue graduate studies. “She is an effective and influential teacher, a renowned scholar in her field and, frankly, a wonderful friend and mentor to many beyond me.”
Aronstein’s teaching awards include the Graduate Mentorship Award; the Honors College freshman-level teaching award; the Honors College upper-division teaching award; the Mortar Board Top Prof Award; the College of Arts and Sciences Top 10 Teacher Award; the Arts and Sciences Extraordinary Merit in Teaching Award; the Hollon Family Award for Teaching Excellence in Off-Campus Programs; and the John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award.
As a scholar, Aronstein specializes in medieval literature, film studies and popular culture. She has published six books; edited or co-edited four volumes of scholarly essays between 2012-2022; and published 16 articles and 17 book chapters. Her research prowess earned her the College of Arts and Sciences Extraordinary Merit in Research Award three times; a fellowship from the Wyoming Institute for Humanities Research; and the UW President’s Scholarly Achievement Award.
“Professor Aronstein’s work is staggeringly interdisciplinary -- though housed in UW’s Department of English, she also has published peer-reviewed work in the fields of theater studies and cinema studies, as well as a range of other humanities fields,” says Tison Pugh, the Pegasus Professor of English at the University of Central Florida. “Simply put, such an achievement is phenomenal and speaks to the capaciousness and depth of her scholarship.”
In addition to her previous leadership of what is now the Honors College, Aronstein has been an assistant chair, interim chair and director of graduate studies in the Department of English; director of UW’s Summer High School Institute; and on dozens of university, college and department committees.
“For me, the great hallmark of Susan Aronstein is that, in her teaching, research and service, she is a deep collaborator,” Parolin says. “She builds communities. She lifts others up and helps them succeed. She always looks for the best in others. For so many of us, the knowledge that Susan believes in our potential inspires us to live up to it.”
Aronstein holds a Ph.D. in English and comparative literatures from Stanford University; a master’s degree in medieval languages from Edinburgh University; and a bachelor’s degree in English from Seattle Pacific University.